What to do if you get ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’

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‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ DOES exist: Doctor reveals the best tea to drink if you feel unwell after eating egg-fried rice and chow mein

  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is known as a seasoning used in Chinese food 
  • It reportedly causes symptoms like nausea, headaches and tiredness 
  • Formerly named ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’, it’s now MSG symptom complex
  • One expert suggests staying hydrated and drinking ginger or peppermint tea 

Lovers of Chinese food may have experienced a headache or feeling sick after eating a meal from a takeaway or restaurant, but might not know it’s a real syndrome.

What doctors used to call ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ is actually a reaction to monosodium glutamate (MSG), a seasoning commonly used in Chinese food.

Now renamed MSG symptom complex, it happens when the flavouring causes symptoms like headache, sweating, nausea, tiredness or a rapid heart rate.

Scientists have not produced convincing evidence of the negative health effects of eating MSG, and it is considered safe to eat by the US Food and Drug Administration.

But MSG symptom complex is real, medics say, and avoiding foods which contain it is the best way to stop it happening to you. 

However, the seasoning is found in popular foods like hot dogs, canned foods and crisps as well as Chinese food, so may be hard to avoid for many. 

London-based GP and writer Dr Jane Leonard has revealed drinking ginger or peppermint tea, as well as staying hydrated and taking painkillers is the best way to help yourself if you do fall victim to MSG.

MSG is best known for being used to flavour Chinese food, but it is thought to cause unpleasant effects in some people such as tiredness and nausea

Scientific evidence for the effects of MSG is limited but doctors and patients say it is a real issue, though they are not sure why the seasoning causes these symptoms.

MSG is a form of glutamic acid which is found naturally in the human body, as well as in foods including cheese, meat, fish, mushrooms, tomatoes and walnuts. 

But despite its natural occurrence, when MSG is used as an added flavouring, it can have unpleasant effects on people who eat it.

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A study by the Yeonsung and Kyung Hee universities in South Korea, published in 2014, found people complained of various problems after eating MSG.

Most common were thirstiness, feeling sleepy or weak, feeling sick or having a headache. 


Chinese restaurant syndrome, as it reportedly used to be called by doctors, is a collection of symptoms caused by a reaction to the monosodium glutamate (MSG) which is best known for being used to flavour Chinese food.

The medical name for the condition is now MSG symptom complex and, although experts are not sure why, it may cause the following symptoms:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Chest pain
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea 
  • Facial flushing 
  • Headache
  • Numbness or burning in the mouth
  • A rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Swelling of the face 

Dr Jane Leonard, a London-based GP, says if someone is experiencing mild symptoms they should try drinking water and peppermint or ginger tea, resting, and taking painkillers for a headache.

Source: Medical News Today 

And Dr Leonard, a GP and cosmetic doctor in London, says there are ways to make yourself feel better if you feel bad after eating MSG.

‘Scientific research into the syndrome is limited’ 

She wrote in Medical News Today: ‘Some people experience symptoms, such as headaches and sweating, after eating in Chinese restaurants. 

‘The medical community once called this group of symptoms Chinese restaurant syndrome. Doctors now call it MSG symptom complex. 

‘While there are many anecdotal reports of MSG-induced symptoms, scientific research into the syndrome is limited.

‘The treatment for MSG symptom complex varies, depending on the symptoms and their severity.’

Try drinking ginger or peppermint tea 

Dr Leonard suggests if people feel mild symptoms they should drink peppermint or ginger tea to help settle their stomach.

Ginger tea is known to help reduce nausea, and has been used by pregnant women and those who have been through chemotherapy, to make them feel less sick.

Scientists are not sure why the tea calms the stomach, but think it could be due to gingerol, the main ingredient in the root, controlling levels of brian chemical serotonin – which is linked to vomiting – or reducing inflammation in the gut.

Peppermint tea, meanwhile, is said to break down fat in the digestion system, relieving nausea.

Dr Leonard says people suffering after eating MSG should also drink water to keep hydrated, rest, and take painkillers if they have a headache.

If someone suffers more severe symptoms, like difficulty breathing, chest pain or an allergic reaction, they should visit their doctor.

Severe reactions are possible 

One man in Mahad, northern India, was reported in 2017 to have lost his voice and ability to swallow after eating MSG.

According to a report in the Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine, the 23-year-old went to hospital with a difficulty speaking and unable to swallow his saliva.

Doctors found his mouth had swelled up and blamed it on MSG in the Chinese fried rice he had eaten for dinner the night before.

The man complained of giddiness, sweating, and itching all over his body, but recovered in a couple of days.

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